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Judge shows leniency to ideologically driven protesters, but convicts ‘nomad’ who protested ‘for the fun of it’
A former oil worker, a special needs teacher and a former IT worker were among 17 protesters opposed to the Corrib gas project who appeared before last week’s sitting of Bemullet District Court.
The protesters, who appeared before Judge Kevin Kilraine, faced a number of public-order charges in relation to protests opposed to the Corrib gas project in north Mayo that took place last July and August.
Fourteen of the protesters had their cases adjourned until the next court hearing on October 12, while three of the protesters who travelled from the UK pleaded guilty to the charges against them.
All three pleaded guilty to the same charges of wilful obstruction and failure to comply with a peace officer when they took part in separate ‘lock-on’ protests against the project along the public road at Ballygelly south, Glengad, Ballina.
Former oil worker
Allan Fleming (50), a former oil-industry employee from Aberdeen in Scotland, was arrested on August 22 when he obstructed the traffic on the road. Inspector Joe McKenna explained that the protest started at 6.15am and it took nearly five hours for a specially-trained Garda team to free and arrest him.
His solicitor Alan Gannon said his client left the oil industry because of his environmental concerns in 2003 and was serious about his beliefs. Taking this into account, Judge Kilraine said that his concern for the environment had to be respected and gave him the benefit of the Probation Act.
Special needs teacher
The second defendant, Mary Walsh (51) a special needs teacher living in London but originally from Co Mayo was arrested at the same location on July 27. The court heard she was a native of the area and has been involved with environmental groups since her college days. Mr Gannon explained that her actions were ideologically driven and out of concerns for the environment in the locality where she hopes to return to live.
Judge Kilraine said a person in her position who gives directions in work should comply when given a lawful direction. However, he acknowledged that she was concerned for the environment and that a conviction would be an embarrassment to her and also gave her the benefit of the Probation Act.
Former IT worker
The third defendant John Johnson (49) of no fixed abode was arrested on August 3. The court was told he has a background in IT and was his actions were also environmentally driven. Mr Gannon explained he had heard about the Rossport campiagn and got involved in the protest but acknowledged he should not protest outside the law.
However, Judge Kilraine described him as a ‘nomad’ who wandered into Mayo and partook in illegal activity. He said he joined the protest ‘for the fun of it’ rather than for ideological reasons. He said he was convicting him but that because of his age and because he had no previous convictions, he would not impose a fine.